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Linux Business GNU is Not Unix Software

Design a Virtual Office with Open Source? 263

apropos asks: "An interesting question came up recently when discussing (yet again) starting an open-source based consulting company: 'How would you design the ultimate virtual office with open source software?' With things like fax, VoIP, web, email, security and office suites all available as open source products, what kind of useful things could be done? One idea that came to mind was emailing answering machine recordings. What would you put into your ultimate virtual office solution?"
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Design a Virtual Office with Open Source?

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  • Easy... (Score:3, Funny)

    by 110010001000 (697113) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:31PM (#8548812) Homepage Journal
    ...buy it with Virtual money.
    • Better Solution (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nick_davison (217681)
      Rather than buy it with virtual money, why not outsource it to slashdot, the ultimate free consultancy service:

      1) Set up consultancy firm
      2) Ask slashdot
      3) Profit
  • Emacs (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:31PM (#8548817)
    Emacs has all those things, right?
  • What about Asterisk (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:32PM (#8548823)
    You can use Asterisk for your PBX [asterisk.org].
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Uhh asterisk might be open source, but the equipement that is needed to make use of the software can range from 300 to multiple thousands of dollars.

      That's not including the ISDN PRI that you going to have split into 24 different trunks, either...
      • at's not including the ISDN PRI that you going to have split into 24 different trunks, either...

        What do you need PRI for that you can't get with plain old channelized t1?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:51PM (#8549238)
        Uhh you don't need any extra hardware over what you would need for an *H323 solution. You can use software-based phones if you have nothing else. You can get a SIP phone for $65 if you are on a serious budget and want the feel of a phone in your hand when you talk. You'll never find a phone that is compatible with *H323 for that low.

        I have less than $300 and have three internal extensions and one external line. A comparable pbx would be much more expensive and MUCH less flexible. I've been able to do with Asterisk in about 30 minutes what would have taken months of C programming on any decent PBX (and a $10k developer license).
        • by torpor (458) <ibisum.gmail@com> on Saturday March 13, 2004 @05:26AM (#8550880) Homepage Journal
          linux telephony has been a great consulting market since 1995 at least! i have set up similar systems for many customers using early versions of Asterisk and similar IVR apps running on linux set up with good telephony-card support. it allows complete, policy-based, scripted automation of all of the main company life-blood (calls), and linuxIVR was my most successful bread-maker, when i was in the consulting business. being able to completely sync the reality of such things as call time tracking -directly- with the internal business apps; even -having- all call details being logged and trackable from a database, for so cheap, made linux the sweetest setup.

          its really cool to see how far its all come (yeah, XML-RPC!!) and yet its so much one of those 'hidden success of linux' stories.

          its like, the operating system that was so good at doing what it does, everyone forgets its even there, or what it is. "never mind the 'war for desktop', who is taking care of the telephones, and the billing, where is the 'policy' computer, etc?" heh heh ... some linux box in the closet, "up 826 days, 4 users, load averages: 0.09 0.22 0.45"
      • Since when does open source mean free hardware??
    • by Gunfighter (1944) on Friday March 12, 2004 @09:18PM (#8549366) Homepage
      Yes, I offer Asterisk for _exactly_ this application. It's more or less a 'follow me' service so that you can work from wherever you want and have your extension forwarded to wherever you want. Once the workday is over, just turn off the forwarding and let everything roll to voicemail. The great thing with this is that you can then set the extensions however you want them: hunt groups, call center queue, etc. etc. You can even park the call and then contact a co-worker (we use Jabber) to dial into the system and pick up the parked call from wherever he or she may be at the time. From the caller's perspective, it's almost like they were transferred directly to the person down the hall from you. A little re-configuration and you have a conference call server... fire up some XML-RPC to your backend database and you have an IVR system... the list goes on and on.

      Asterisk is much more flexible than working everything directly through the phone company, and can save a bundle on not having to pay for extra features at the Central Office level. After all, in some areas a channelized T1 with 24 trunks (think 12 in & 12 out) is cheaper than twelve centrex lines with all of the features. When you compare this over the long run, this savings, coupled with the lower hardware costs, can make a full featured phone system ROI _very_ quickly for the virtual office environment.

      (Hints: Ask your phone company to let you colo the box so you don't have to pay the local loop charge for the T1. Also be sure to ask what it would cost to go ahead and split two of the 64k channels out for Internet access so you can administer it remotely without having to use a modem.)

      • by nettdata (88196)
        Interesting, and some excellent insight.

        In my newly formed office, where there are developers/sales/finance people working out of their home offices in Toronto, Boston, Vancouver, NY, and LA, we opted to go for the Telco features as it's a truly virtual system. We have a North American toll-free number that people can call, and it gives you the usual "welcome to our company... sales press 1, tech support press 2, company directory press 3", etc.

        At that point, it will hunt down an individual or series of
    • Nice timing! :)

      If you're interested, the slides and notes from the talk are here: Fun with Asterisk and Perl [moertel.com].

      The talk was for the Pittsburgh Perl Mongers and shows a four examples:

      • text-to-speech
      • dial the weather
      • web form that sets up a call
      • web form that sets up a conference
      Asterisk is fun stuff and worth a look.
  • Netoffice (Score:3, Interesting)

    by robbedbit (598810) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:33PM (#8548833)
    Great simple CRM.
  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:33PM (#8548835) Homepage Journal

    What would be useful?

    emailing answering machine recordings.. I don't think so. Emailing the entire answering machine recording could backfire. That could easily be used as a DoS against someone's email box ("Let's all leave a message for that ass Professor Doofus tonight!")

    Not that I get a lot of faxes these days (read: "the 21st century") but it would be nice to have software that would OCR a fax then email the text to me (this one is simple enough that it probably already exists) == Less paper.

    If a company were large enough to have a mail room, then scanning in snail mail and emailing images would be neat. One could always fetch the hard copy if needed. I'm far more efficient with electronic files than I am with paper. (My desk is a pigsty)

    • by rjstanford (69735) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:35PM (#8548852) Homepage Journal
      Scanning in snail mail and emailing images would be neat. One could always fetch the hard copy if needed

      I use PayTrust [slashdot.org] for my bills - they do exactly this. What they can get electronically, they do, but any other bills go to their address and get scanned in. I get an email with highlighted information (date due, minimum payment, total payment, etc) and can set up automatic payment rules (for example, "Pay celphone bill unless its over $120 - if it is, then email me first"). And it works on anything, even little scraps of paper.

      Pretty cool stuff, and very friendly.
    • That could easily be used as a DoS against someone's email box ("Let's all leave a message for that ass Professor Doofus tonight!")

      Maybe, but you would have to be pretty hard up to do so. Most voice recordings that I get on my email are about 50 KB (Don't forget 8kbps mono signals that come from voice modems aren't exactly high quality or large) How much is a large'ish HDD? 160GB? Try filling that in a hurry.

      vgetty provides this functionality.
    • by daveo0331 (469843) * on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:56PM (#8548989) Homepage Journal
      emailing answering machine recordings.. I don't think so. Emailing the entire answering machine recording could backfire. That could easily be used as a DoS against someone's email box ("Let's all leave a message for that ass Professor Doofus tonight!")

      Or better yet, use voice-recognition software to translate the message to text, and send it to my email. I can read (or skim) faster than I can listen. Of course, I'd also want the recording (which wouldn't take up much space, as someone else already pointed out) in case someone left a phone number and the software didn't translate it correctly.
    • hylafax can be configured to do alot of things, including setting up a fax to email gateway.

      Add in a filter to regex your favorite keywords or by caller id and instant sorting.

      We use hylafax quite extensively at the office. We are not into phase 2 yet which aims at removing all incoming hard copy. Pretty much when I get time to finish the roll out we should move to this.
      • by gregmac (629064) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:55PM (#8549253) Homepage
        We use hylafax quite extensively at the office. We are not into phase 2 yet which aims at removing all incoming hard copy. Pretty much when I get time to finish the roll out we should move to this. I'm still setting up for phase 1 of my hylafax rollout, which is basically setting up a print-to-fax gateway. I don't like any of the existing solutions, so I basically started from scratch. The fax capture runs as a samba print share, when you print to it, it spools it into an 'outbox'. This spool service will also connect back to the sender's PC and make a program popup (which I haven't written yet) asking for the phone number, cover page notes, etc, much like Respond [boerde.de], except in a non-ugly interface that includes cover page options. If it can't connect, or the user doesn't fill it out, it will just sit in the outbox with a 'pending' status (since it has no fax destination). Phase 2 will be the same as yours, removing incoming hardcopy, putting faxes into a similar 'inbox' spool. Think webmail, but for faxes. Eventually, I'd also like to do OCR that gets run through filters which can hopefully match things like "Attn: bob" and send an email to bob telling him he has a new fax. I doubt I'll be able to replace the actual fax with OCR due to quality, but we'll see.
        • by Cylix (55374) *
          We are primarily a windows desktop environment. (Believe it or not management has considered a linux change over a time or two.... progress!)

          You are running in mostly the right direction it seems.

          We have two methods for the print-to-fax gateway.
          The first, available for any systems, involes an smb print share. This print share via cups uses sambafax. http://www.purpel3.com/sambafax/sambafax_6B.html Essentially, it just parses the postscript file and takes out the send number. It's fairly basic and relies
    • emailing answering machine recordings.. I don't think so. Emailing the entire answering machine recording could backfire. That could easily be used as a DoS against someone's email box ("Let's all leave a message for that ass Professor Doofus tonight!")

      You have a good point. I'd use Caller ID and send myself e-mail telling me when the message was received and who it was from.
    • I've been using JFax from J2 [j2.com] for years. It will forward faxes and voicemails to your email account and it costs less than adding a phone line.
    • Actually - We use a Cisco IP Phone setup at work, with some sort of auto compression of the messages at work. A normal 30 second mesage runs about 500k, and I regularly forward or recieve forwarded voicemail messages.
    • "If a company were large enough to have a mail room, then scanning in snail mail and emailing images would be neat. One could always fetch the hard copy if needed. I'm far more efficient with electronic files than I am with paper. (My desk is a pigsty)"

      Decent EDMS do imaging,storage and workflow right now. Email is too crude - works for messaging but not for true information management when meta-data is all important
    • emailing answering machine recordings - keep the recording on a secure web server that requires authentication, and send an email to notify that voicemail is there, and maybe some basic info such as caller ID and date/time.

      OCR a fax then email the text -
      www.efax.com - incoming faxes are converted to tiff pitcures and emailed to you
      www.fax1.com - email files (PDF, WORD, text, etc) to be transmitted to a real fax machine at a specified number

      scanning in snail mail and emailing images - this just sounds

  • People. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rjstanford (69735) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:33PM (#8548836) Homepage Journal
    That's what I'd put into the picture. People. Remember, technology is nothing but an enabler. From the receptionist who answers your phone (can be in a call center, sure, but they should be breathing) to the monkey on the keyboard getting the job done, people are what will make the difference. Everything else is an end to a means, and besides - there's nothing like dealing with people to cut through some of the crap that we get day in and day out with this stuff.
    • Re:People. (Score:5, Funny)

      by _PimpDaddy7_ (415866) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:53PM (#8548965)
      Yes but this is slashdot. We are engineers...we don't like dealing with people. :)
      • Speak for yourself. I'm a technician, not an engineer.

        At least I still have some self respect and dignity.
      • [Scene Initech. Bob Slydell and Bob Porter are interviewing Tom.]

        BOB SLYDELL: So what you do is you take the specifications from the customers and you bring them down to the software engineers?

        TOM: That, that's right.

        BOB PORTER: Well, then I gotta ask, then why can't the customers just take the specifications directly to the software people, huh?

        TOM: Well, uh, uh, uh, because, uh, engineers are not good at dealing with

        BOB SLYDELL: You physically take the specs from the customer?

        TOM: Well, no
  • Hmmm.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meta-monkey (321000) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:33PM (#8548838) Journal
    I think I'd recommend a good secretary. A good secretary who'll take messages for you and deliver them is a lot more practical and easier to implement than a system to email answering machine messenges. Then, you can actually conduct business instead of designing whizz-bang systems that are little more than novelties. Just a thought.
    • Re:Hmmm.. (Score:2, Funny)

      by faldore (221970)
      Secretaries are expensive. Computers (and programmers) are cheap.
      • Re:Hmmm.. (Score:5, Funny)

        by Tandoori Haggis (662404) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:50PM (#8548949)
        Laptops (computers) are expensive.
        Laptops (secretaries) are expensive

        Hmm... which one to choose?
      • Re:Hmmm.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by kfg (145172) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:59PM (#8549001)
        If your seceratay/personal assistant/receptionist isn't worth $40k a year you've got the wrong person in the job.

        This isn't a place for a decorative "dumb blonde." That's Fortune 500 CEO stuff.

        In a small, virtual, high tech company doing most of its work/business over internet/phone the assistants should be among the sharpest people you've got working for you, and payed for it.

        They'll pay back their high salaries in triplicate. Thus they're cheap. The reduction of the assistant to a "seceratary" is one of the greatest tragedies of the corporate world.

        • Re:Hmmm.. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by jrexilius (520067) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:39PM (#8549191) Homepage
          I agree, however, I am worried about paying my own salary and the next person I hire is going to have to be a worker, and the next 3 people after that. Once I can pay 4 engineers' salary then I might get a secretary but I have to service my customers first and I only have 24 hours in a day.

          Your point is valid for companies that have > 3 people and are (more) secure financially but I will be without physical office for a while and need to hire good technologists first.

          So the original question, how can I use my existing or modified infrastructure and intelligent software to help cover that gap until then?

          I am working on building the tools I need and I love open source for this. People have touched on great packages such as mgetty and I would add wiki, egroupware (fork of phpgroupware), squirrel mail, horde, etc. etc.

          I am building a suite of tools that I am giving back to the community (as they are based on open source tools to begin with) that may be a nice package for virtual office needs. See rexiliusgroup.com for some of the code (still being developed).
          • by Anonymous Coward
            The purpose of the assistant is to interface with the outside world so that you can do the creative engineering that customers want to pay for.

            The phone's gonna ring. Are you going to answer it every time, interrupt your train of thought, and devote your attention to juggling it? Or are you going to dump all your incoming calls into voicemail and deal with them one day per week?

            If you don't have a lot of cash, try paying your assistant the same thing that you're paying yourself: a chunk of equity along
          • Re:Hmmm.. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by kfg (145172) on Friday March 12, 2004 @09:20PM (#8549375)
            . . .but I have to service my customers first and I only have 24 hours in a day.

            Bingo! And your hours are more valuable taking care of those things that only you can take care of than they are taking your clothes to the cleaners and picking them up again, and all those thousand and one little tasks that the modern "seceratary" has been taught to refuse to do.

            I've known salesman who payed assistants out of their own pocket when the company refused to provide one, because their time selling was worth more than the time doing the things the assistant did for them. And I'm not talking about million dollar a year salesman. I'm talking about people in their first year or two in the trade making $20k themselves if they were lucky.

            Yes, startup is tough. You thought you were through living on Ramen noodles and sleeping on a hand-me-down sofa bed when you got out of school, didn't you? Now you've got all that again, plus the fact that you'll spend many a night tossing on that sofa bed wondering how in the hell you're going to make Friday's payroll.

            You rich, bloody capitalist pig you.

            Even so, you'll find that you're better off in the long run (like, within a year) hiring one technologist and one assistant than hiring two technologists, because that assistant will be leveraged into more, and better, work by both yourself and your technologist. The affect it can have on morale alone is astounding.

            Use the software for what software can legitimately do. Like connect you with your technologists, and them with your customers. But use people for what only people can do, like making sure you never run out of toner, and thus lose hours of valuable work time while you chase after more instead of chasing after customers or getting the print job out by deadline.

            Go to your local college and find a CE sophmore who'll take a part time internship for $7.50/hr, 10 hrs/wk.

            Don't lie to them. Tell them they're going to be the office schlub for a startup with dubious finances and future. If they take the job they'll bust their ass for you with a smile on their face.

            Just be sure to reward them when you've reached the point where you can. They'll be yours for life if you do that.

            They'll piss all over you if you don't, and you'll deserve it.

            And yes, I'll have a look at your software.

            • Yeah actually you and another poster make the same good point. I am already finding myself more annoyed with traffic than I should be and many other things that are just taking up too much of my time.

              I will have to think about that. I just got my first 3 clients and am about ready to cut the funding cord (my day job). I dont have that much many set aside for someone elses salary yet but maybe I should factor that in to my business plan.

              Yet another thing I enjoy about the OS community, free advice! ;-)
    • Re:Hmmm.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dejohn (164452) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:39PM (#8548891) Homepage
      We've been using a voicemail-in-the-inbox solution from Avaya (Unified Messenger) for about 5 years at a 100 user company. It's extremely stable and reliable. Interestingly... it's fully integrated with Exchange. It uses the Information Store as it's voicemail storage. When you dial into the voicemail system from a regular phone, it says "you have x new voicemails, x new emails, and x new faxes". It then gives you options to access all of those (read your email with a text->speech, or forward your emails (with attachements) or faxes to another fax machine.

      It's really cool technology and continues to amaze everyone we show it to, so I'm surprised that it's not yet fully commonplace.

      For an open source solution? Hmmm... good luck? :)
  • Linmodems (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SharpFang (651121) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:42PM (#8548907) Homepage Journal
    Get a winmodem and software from Linmodems.org [linmodems.org]

    Citing the site:

    # Think telephone emulation (put the audio card into full duplex, and talk to the linmodem with it).
    # Think telephone with a backspace key (use the linmodem to dial for you).
    # Think smart telephone: "That line is busy. Do you want me to retry in five minutes?"
    # Think "voice dialling".
    # Think "soft pbx". Equip enough machines in an office for all the outside lines. Then do IP telephone inter-office, and go to a linmodem when you need an outside line.
    # Think answering machine.
    # Think pager interface. Your answering machine takes the call, phones your pager company and pages you).
    # Think "contact database with integral dialler, and answering machine recognition".
    # Think "call recording with no off-hook click".
    # Think message detail recorder (basically a record of all time spent on the phone. Great for billing.

    I guess mailing voice recording wouldn't be hard.
    • I am not using Linmodems at all.

      However, you can setup such a system using vgetty included in the mgetty package with a voice/modem/fax. Sending the fax and the voice message is the easy part of the setup.

      What would be much difficult, it's playing with the DTMF script to enable the system to behave like a automated-attendant. You can have it page you when someone leaves an urgent message or even call you on your cellphone (if you have one and don't want to give your number to everyone) and play the mess

  • wireless services (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jrexilius (520067) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:43PM (#8548917) Homepage
    Aside from the standard web-based groupware, time and project tracking, file sharing, faxing, customer collaboration/communication, and coding tools.. I would add wireless, low-bandwidth optimized UI's to all of the above as well as to things like Nessus, nmap, ssh, load testing, data validation services, site scraper, etc. etc.

    Its nice to be able to sit with a client at lunch and run a security scan and site survey from your PDA and fax the results back to him so they are waiting in his office when he gets back.

    I am building those tools for my fledgling company and used some of them today at a client site.
  • right now, i would say the best office solution is openoffice for general purpose,

    but then again just like in windows and MS Office you will always need add-ons for your specific needs, i would say there is no "1 office suite" that can definitely fill your needs (that is if you want to do more than the standard stuff)
  • VOIP (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alan Hicks (660661) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:46PM (#8548930) Homepage
    I haven't done it yet (largely because of the cost involved and my current lack of funds), but an open source VOIP system could kick ass and save you money. Phone systems are historically very expensive. It should be possible to run VOIP on your NAT router with an asterisk compatable phone card that supports say, 4 extensions (assuming a small office here). Phones are probably your biggest expense, but a complete phone system is often an order of magnitude higher than what can currently be implemented with VOIP in a small office, at least that's my take on it.
    • Re:VOIP (Score:3, Informative)

      by urulokion (597607)
      Digium [digium.com] for the cards you need to connect the PSTN and hard phones. Asterisk.org [asterisk.org] for your PBX/VoIP server.

      The Digium cards seem a mght expensive, but there are definately cheaper then channel banks. But don't worry the Asterisk software can handle H.323, SIP and IAX (asterisk's own VoIP protocol). So you can use hard phone, soft phones and hard soft phones?!? (e.g. Cisco VoIP phone)

      I've installed two of the PSTN (FXO) cards, and phone (TDM) card in a spare server with Asterisk. The cards sound and work g

      • Re:VOIP (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gregmac (629064) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:45PM (#8549210) Homepage
        The Digium cards seem a mght expensive, but there are definately cheaper then channel banks.

        More importantly, the digium cards, plus computer hardware, plus voip phones running with Asterisk all together is still far cheaper than a normal VoIP system (say, 3Com or NEC), or a voicemail-equiped digital (non-voip) phone system. Plus you get a ton more features and flexibility than you could ever possibly have in a closed system.

  • All equipment (phone, fax, computer...) would turn off at the press of one (1) button.

    Then if somebody still tried to reach you, an automated voice or fax or email, as the case may be, would tell them: "I'm trying to have some quiet time here DAMMIT!"

    The ability to be unreachable anywhere would be a terrific option for cell phone owners.
    • You'll find the switch in your breaker box. Or on your power strip/UPS if you arrange things carefully.

      No one forces you to take your cell phone with you at all times, or to actually have it turned on if you do have it with you. If you've been trained to salivate every time a bell rings, well, untrain yourself, we have that advantage over dogs.

      Yes, I know your post was a joke, but it's one of those jokes that's funny because of its ultimate truth.

      The power of control was with you all along. Just click yo
    • The ability to be unreachable anywhere would be a terrific option for cell phone owners.
      I already have that, it's called Being Broke(tm).
  • Easy... (Score:5, Funny)

    by ilctoh (620875) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:52PM (#8548960)
    Just create an MS BOB clone! Not only would you have a virtual office, but you'd have a virtual kitchen, living room, filling cabinet, and more great features at your finger tips!
  • The one area in which MS Ofiice is way ahead of any open source software is the functionality of Excel. Making graphs, sorting and binning, analyzing data - these are basic but exceedingly useful functions Excel does much better than any open source spreadsheet software I've ever used. Those who rely heavily on data analysis will use higher-powered programs than Excel, but for intermediate users, having that functionality quickly at hand is very useful. This is one area where, though it's not a fancy "ne
  • by Zenmonkeycat (749580) on Friday March 12, 2004 @07:56PM (#8548990)
    Unfortunately, my virtual office would have to be a recording studio. And I still haven't found anything like Cubase (with VST effect and instrument support, the ability to interface with just about all my instruments, and a nice notation setup) for Linux. Sure, there are all sorts of programs that do /some/ of what Cubase does, but nothing truly integrated to the level I need.

    Besides, I /still/ haven't gotten my sound card to work right under Fedora, and it's a bog-standard Audigy!

    Now if my virtual office were a musicological research library with full support for searching through massive databases of scores, /then/ I'd be looking at Linux.
  • Usability (Score:5, Interesting)

    by viktor (11866) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:02PM (#8549016) Homepage
    What would you put into your ultimate virtual office solution?

    One word: Usability.

    Open Source is wonderful for what it is, its principles are beautiful, its spirit is clean, and it is absolutely no good to end users as it stands today.

    Applications do not look the same, nor do they work the same. KDE and GNOME? Yeah. But there are two of them. Why? End users do not care about choice. They want something that works, and where every application looks the same and works the same. They also do not care about recompiling their kernel every time they buy some hardware, or recompiling software to alter some setting only available compile-time.

    Whatever functionality (which is normally Open Source developers' focus) the office solution gives, it is absolutely worthless if it takes a Ph.D. in Rocket Science (or two hours of trial-and-failure) to understand how to reach the wanted end results.

    So usability would be my primer choice for end result.

    I dare not count how many Open Source projects actually start out creating a logo, a hompeage, and an implementation of themes, a particularly pointless feature. Somehow that says everything. For most of them, anyways.

    • Re:Usability (Score:3, Insightful)

      KDE and GNOME? Yeah. But there are two of them. Why? End users do not care about choice. They want something that works, and where every application looks the same and works the same. They also do not care about recompiling their kernel every time they buy some hardware, or recompiling software to alter some setting only available compile-time.

      So pick KDE or GNOME, and only use apps that are particular to one or agnostic to either. Don't tell the users that the other exists, and like you said, they won'
    • Re:Usability (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gujo-odori (473191)
      You're probably just trolling, but on the off chance that your're not:

      KDE and GNOME? Yeah. But there are two of them. Why? End users do not care about choice.

      If they do not care about choice (and I don't think that's true of all of them, or even most, or things like skins wouldn't exist in the first place), that's not a problem: in a business environment, the choice of UI is made by the IT department, not the end users. They will choose either Gnome or KDE, as they see fit. The end user, if unfamiliar

      • Re:Usability (Score:2, Insightful)

        by craXORjack (726120)
        What about browsers? Hmmm. Mozilla, Firefox, and Konqueror are just as easy to use as IE, and easiser to configure, especially from a security standpoint.

        I only use Mozilla but I have to support IE too. It is much easier to configure proxies in IE because I can type the address once and check a box that says use this address for all proxies. But in Mozilla/NS I have to type it in repeatedly. Not a big deal until you do it a hundred times over the course of a year.

        I also have a beef with Mozilla over ano

        • Konqueror supports proxy config like that (1 for all proxy types) and it also prompts for password on any connection type that returns some kind of denied thing I have tested it with ftp, sftp, webdav etc.

          Konqueror in kde 3.2.1 is also a nice improvement it renders faster and more correctly then it did before. Overall in my experience it is a tossup as to which browser konqueror/mozilla is more standards compliant some stuff one does better and some stuff the other does better.
    • Re:Usability (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jrexilius (520067) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:50PM (#8549228) Homepage
      Well, the question stands who is the user that you are targeting with your "usability". If you read the original post again it mentions the discussion centered around virtual office needs for a technology company (consulting, software, etc.). My company is a technology and myself and my colleagues have a definition of usability that centers on our ability to hack at it if it doesnt do what we want. Our motto of sorts, however, is something along the lines of "we know technology so you dont have to" and our customers often have their own definitions of usability.

      Unlike proprietary software, they dont have to memorize how the vendor wants them to use the application, they tell me and I make it work for them how they want it. That usability model is also different.

      Not to say that many open source packages don't suck as end-user tools, but everyone has different ideas of usability and its strength is that I can make it fit those ideas.
    • Re:Usability (Score:2, Insightful)

      by chadruva (613658)
      I think you are mistaking OSS Developers for some sort of enterprise company (some are, but not all of us).

      Most of us start a project that is useful for us only, later we found that it can be useful for other people, then we make our software Open Source, for everybody to use, share and modify.

      We are not about users, we are about sharing. You can modify it if you don't like it, it works for me. OSS people are very kind and care about their users, but their users don't help, they always keep yelling out lo
  • by Openstandards.net (614258) <slashdot.openstandards@net> on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:03PM (#8549022) Homepage
    I don't think technology is the challenge. It's the people resources that are difficult to manage.

    How do you pay people you not only can't see daily, but possibly may have never even met in person? How can you check up on the current state of your operation?

    • It's quite simple... you don't manage, you lead. Micromanaging your people is a crappy way to do business. You set the goal and let the people head towards it under your guidance. Let the results speak for themselves.

      Tell your people what to do or tell them how to do it, but not both. If you have to do both, you're doing something wrong and probably shouldn't be in a leadership position anyways. This will teach your underlings some initiative and help them develop sound judgement. If someone doesn't know h
  • by 4pksings (255835) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:06PM (#8549040)
    VOCP does this. Multiple mailboxes, faxes, faxback,
    downloads messages via the web so that they can be played anywhere. Uses perl and python.

    Works very well, I have used it for over 3 years.

    And of course, it's GPL licensed, and downloadable at vocp.sourceforge.net.

  • Try to get an encoder with a "faster" option.
    Still perfectly easy to understand especially if you often get messages from people that go, "oh.....yeah ....Hi....I'm looking for....um...you know....that gadget you guys were selling...it was um....let me think...um....oh....that's right the LART2004"

    Well, I just use winamp with one of those DSP plugins with the little slider that affects the speed and not the pitch.... but an encoder that does it by default would be nice.
    A smart encoder with a 20 percent spe
  • Features (Score:3, Insightful)

    by El (94934) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:14PM (#8549071)
    Obvious features are intercepting all outgoing fax and data calls to see if they can be routed over the internet to save on toll charges. Less obvious is setting up a special email account which automatically prints attachments of any email received -- just don't give out this address to spammers!

    Personally, I think all received faxes should be saved to hard disk and previewed before being printed to prevent wasting paper. But I'm not sure how easy this is to implement currently with open source.
    • Mgetty + a script to send rec'd faxes to an IMAP mailbox for storage and preview isn't hard - hell, it took me about an hour to whip up a shell script to do it. It's been running now for two years without any hassle, with the advantage that all our incoming faxes are available in storage.

      (IMAP so that multiple people can have access to a central "fax" account)
  • by Decameron81 (628548) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:27PM (#8549133)
    "What would you put into your ultimate virtual office solution?"

    An open source secretary.

    Diego Rey
  • by bergeron76 (176351) * on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:32PM (#8549160)
    You could charge to post your or your clients' ideas on Slashdot and watch their IP disappear as people with more resources than they have scoop up the idea and run with it.

    I bet their competitors would pay you a good bit of money for this service.

    Drat! I'm falling victim to my own idea by even posting this consulting idea!

  • by snookerdoodle (123851) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:37PM (#8549183)
    One objection that kept my last place decidedly windoze was the accounting software. There are a limited number of accounting s/w packages that an anal CPA will be happy with, even in Bill Gates' Realm. In our case, the Controller said, essentially, "Anything you want, as long as it runs Solomon Accounting Software". (FWIW, Solomon was purchased by Great Plains, who was later acquired by Our Friends In Redmond.) In this case, a significant number of desktops had to have windoze along with at least one server (MS SQL Server).

    But that's just an example. It could have been something else. It could be Illustrator. Or Photoshop (yes, I Love The GIMP, but I'd switch if Photoshop was free). The productivity of users in the long run is far more significant than even, say, a $15,000 accounting package.

    My wife is currently taking the Becker/Conviser course in preparation for her CPA exam. Yup, we have to have Windoze for the practice software. Fortunately, OpenOffice runs very nicely on her XP box. ;-)

    I think that, as long as you're prepared to build and *support* heterogeneous systems with perhaps a blend of "Whatever The End User Needs", you are fine. You can suggest ways to save money, but keep your eye on productivity - it's arguable to me that OpenOffice is in some ways *better* than MS Office, for example. If you walk in *telling* users they should be happy with, say, Abiword, you're already on the wrong foot, IMHO.

  • by juebay (736455) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:42PM (#8549203)
    Tech phone call takes what the user says, types it into google, and redirect whatever browser the user is on to the search results
  • to have a virtual afair with... she could also pick up my virtual dry cleaning
  • by Dark Coder (66759) on Friday March 12, 2004 @08:59PM (#8549277)
    1. X10 controller
      1. SmartHome.Com [smarthome.com]
      2. web-based X10 controller [kevinboone.com]
      3. Complete listing of X10 software [x10ideas.com]
      4. Linux-based HomeVision [wanadoo.nl]
    2. GNU Automaton [gnu.org]
    3. an established IPv6 tunnel with your own IPv6 address subnet (it's a whole new world out there)
    4. SMS server for your cell-phone (good with X10)
      1. X10 event to your SMS phone [jabberwocky.com] (via paging)
      2. Control X10 from your WAP cellphone [f9.co.uk]
    5. Mobile IP server for your roving laptop
    and as a tribute toward the fabled CMU Trojan Room Coffee webcam lore...

    Coffee Maker [cam.ac.uk] (this one needs an Java-Dispenser SNMP agent [agentpp.com] badly)

    We're almost there...

  • Hey (Score:4, Funny)

    by TiKwanLeep (749300) * on Friday March 12, 2004 @09:00PM (#8549283)
    How about some virtual unemployment?
  • Advanced Interactive [advancedinteractive.com]

    The have some interesting products...
  • by rediguana (104664) on Friday March 12, 2004 @09:46PM (#8549466)
    This topic has been on my mind for the past year whilst I've been setting up a small (3 location, 5 person) management consulting practice. I'm going to dump as much as I can here.

    1a. File-sharing across multiple locations. Haven't done this because bandwidth isn't quite cheap enough yet, but perhaps in the near future, I'll be setting up rsync'd shares between the 3 locations so we can work from the same file base. Hasn't been a problem when working on separate projects but with more joint projects, it is starting to get messy with people keeping their own project directories.

    1b. Search interface to files. Heirarchical file structures suck for trying to find things. Good for filing once, but I reckon I could retreive files quicker with a google-like interface. So, I want a prebuilt web front end that can automatically provide a search interface to samba shares. I should be able to treat each share as a collection, so I can chose to search just one collection or many. This would be very useful.

    Personally, I want to work towards the following solution.
    * samba shares of heirarchical folders that can be mapped and synced to laptops
    * a web search interface to the samba shares that understands doc/xls/pdf etc a la htdig
    * rsync to maintain similar shares across multiple sites

    Alternatively, it would be interesting to investigate peer-to-peer as an alternative - as long as files could still be synced to go on the road. Cool P2P features would be to define how many copies should be stored of each file on the network (to force backup) and to have the primary files migrate to where they are used the most to cut down bandwidth transfers.

    2. Groupware - I've been meaning to look at the OSS groupware packages available, because with more shared projects, we need a centralised way of managing projects, tasks, calendars and contacts. These should be able to be accessed from Outlook ideally (Outlook 2003 is pretty good I have to admit). It would be nice to have faxes received via a modem in a linux box arrive in the groupware where appropriate staff can access them from wherever they are at the time. The groupware would naturally be a good home for the web interface to the samba file shares.

    3. Office software - OpenOffice.org appears to lack the ability to track changes - essential for multiple people working on a project. Compare document is not enough. You need to be able to identify changes, and add comment bubbles for the development and review process. Additionally OOo needs to have a basic project management tool, drawing tool, and even a note taking tool a la MS Project, Visio and OneNote. That would cover most business needs.

    4. Security phpki looks interesting and useful for managing email certs. Naturally most network communication should be encrypted between locations with SSH tunnels or similar.

    5. Intelligence. Haven't seen anything like this but it would be very very useful for any business. There needs to be a web interface to an intelligence gathering and searching tool. So I hear that "so-and-so is planning to do this" I can record it in a database. Later, someone could search for so-and-so and be provided with the gossip from the different sources within the organisation. Could be a very useful tool. Perhaps something like an OSS version of the NSA's Intelink software - a means of providing, sharing and searching business intelligence.

    6. Timesheet. A good OSS web based timesheeting system would be very useful.

    7. NNTP. Thats right, I want to use good ole newsgroups. I tried web forums, but they didn't go down well because you had to be online. With NNTP you can use an offline reader, and reply offline. I reckon I can get my technophobe partners to use that because its so similar to email. Email is a bane for internal communication because of the cc's and everyone archiving mail. It would be easier to move as much as possible to a newsserver and use email only for direct communication between two people. Then a web interface from the intranet would be nice as well!

    I'm not asking for too much am I? ;)
    • by Roblimo (357) on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:43PM (#8549919) Homepage Journal
      "OpenOffice.org appears to lack the ability to track changes - essential for multiple people working on a project. Compare document is not enough. You need to be able to identify changes, and add comment bubbles for the development and review process. Additionally OOo needs to have a basic project management tool, drawing tool, and even a note taking tool a la MS Project, Visio and OneNote. That would cover most business needs."

      OpenOffice.org has all of these features. I've used OOo to write one book and edit a couple of others. Now I'm using it to write another one for a major publisher (Addison-Wesley), and will need to go through at least a couple of rounds of edits by several different people, complete with comment bubbles and the rest, not to mention handling a whole bunch of illustrations that include screenshots, photos, and charts/graphs. For note-taking I have a whole raft of open source alternatives.

      I'll be interacting with MS Office users all the way, too, and I expect no problems since I've done this before and it worked out fine.

      - Robin
    • 2. Groupware - I've been meaning to look at the OSS groupware packages available, because with more shared projects, we need a centralised way of managing projects, tasks, calendars and contacts. These should be able to be accessed from Outlook ideally (Outlook 2003 is pretty good I have to admit). It would be nice to have faxes received via a modem in a linux box arrive in the groupware where appropriate staff can access them from wherever they are at the time. The groupware would naturally be a good home
    • by gnu-generation-one (717590) on Saturday March 13, 2004 @09:33AM (#8551384) Homepage
      "Office software - OpenOffice.org appears to lack the ability to track changes - essential for multiple people working on a project. Compare document is not enough. You need to be able to identify changes, and add comment bubbles for the development and review process. Additionally OOo needs to have a basic project management tool, drawing tool, and even a note taking tool a la MS Project, Visio and OneNote. That would cover most business needs."

      The more and more complex your documentation, notes, and filesystem becomes, the more you realise that you need a Wiki to organise it all. If you want to have lots of people collaborating on a document, tracking changes, writing comments, and re-using text between documents, then word processors by themselves simply aren't capable enough, but that's something an internal Wiki excels in.

      As to drawing tools, I can't believe we're talking about the same products. Where I work, OpenOffice has one of the best drawing tools I've ever used, whereas Microsoft Office doesn't have anything. We've got engineers trying to do technical drawing in MS-Word, and you wouldn't believe how ugly the results are. Visio would be nice, but it's not part of MS-Office, it's 150-400 GBP extra. Can someone who's used both tell me why Visio is worth so much more money? And anyone who says 'because it's part of MS-Office' doesn't know enough about Visio's history.

      As to note-taking, what is it that you're so sure OpenOffice *must have* before you'll look at it? You have some sort of company where people open up Microsoft note-taking software when they receive a phone call rather than using a text-editor or word-processor or a postit note like everyone else? Do you take your computers into meetings and try to take notes on that?

      Project management? Even the most hardcore Microsoft-users in our office are baulking at the idea of paying 400-500 GBP per-person, per-computer for a project planning tool. Not that they'd ever consider using anything other than Microsoft Project, of course.
  • by Russ Nelson (33911) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Friday March 12, 2004 @09:51PM (#8549492) Homepage
    When I pick up the telephone, I want my MP3 player to pause. I also want the telephone to do a google search on the incoming caller-id. And log the beginning and end of every call. And automatically bill it to the customer associated with that telephone number.
  • by craXORjack (726120) on Friday March 12, 2004 @10:08PM (#8549575)
    What would you put into your ultimate virtual office solution?

    I think the most important thing is not usability as an earlier poster claimed though that is important but maintainability. Owners of small businesses with a dozen employees can't afford to have a full time network or systems administrator. So the responsibility usually falls on someone who is an engineer or administrative assistant but who is more interested in computer stuff than their average co-worker. If you put together a package that requires them to call you back in at $120 an hour everytime something strange happens, it will put the brakes on adoption. Make your money and your reputation on doing installs and never needing to come back. Make your product and service the AK-47 of the SOHO world. BTW, if any readers don't know, the M-16 has better range and accuracy but jams when not cleaned regularly whereas the AK rifle can be dragged through swamps and get sand and mud in the chamber yet keep on firing happily, at least that is the reputation. (If any godless communists with personal experience with it want to correct me, feel free.)

    As for specific cool ideas... Take the voicemail to email one step further: maybe you could get voice recognition software to translate the message to words (or just phonemes when it is unsure of a word), send that to email, and act as a proxy allowing a reply email from, for example a two way pager, to be translated back into speech by voice synthesis software, then redial the original number found by callerID, read off the reply and ask for a certain touchtone or the word 'confirmed' to be said if the correct recipient got the reply. Like this:

    (Metallic Voice):
    Hello Grandma... This is Peter... I am running late... Will be there after I pick up the kids at the YMCA...
    (pre-recorded voice): If you are... Grandma... and you understand... Peter... 's reply, please press the '5' key or say 'confirmed' now.
  • Emailing voicemail (Score:2, Informative)

    by gentlemoose (313278)
    While certainly not opensource, Oracle's new Collaboration Suite handles that functionality remarkably gracefully. Straight to the inbox as (oog) a .wav file. Time to up the mail quotas.
  • - an accounting system
    - a groupware system with web interface, native client, sync, etc.
    - custom web-based applications development services
    - bonus: network transparency (move whole shebang onto servers at the client's location without a lot of grief, if they so desire)
  • Virtual Information (Score:2, Interesting)

    by eckes (19624)
    I wonder what the point of this article is?

    And why is it a virtual office, of you use physical computers? If it is the work place at home, call it Soho, or call it the workplace of a telecommuter, but I dont see what the virtual here is, besides a disturbing buzz-word.

    And by the way, did I miss the content of this article? It is just listening some well known web sites. Where is the news?
  • Phone automation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by double_h (21284) on Friday March 12, 2004 @11:16PM (#8549845) Homepage
    Around 1997 or so I worked in an office where they were considering an integrated voicemail system that was pretty cool. It had its own modular server/bridge hardware (this was an office of about 300 people) and interfaced in with the email system (which was Netware + Groupwise in this office). When you received a phone message it would automatically show up in your inbox with a phone icon next to it, and you could select to either play it through the PC speakers, or via phone headset, in which case it would instantly ring your line with the message. Pretty snazzy, and worked with the existing phone network.
  • by amix (226257) on Saturday March 13, 2004 @05:02AM (#8550818) Journal
    What Linux needs in general is a powerful scripting-demon. Or let's call it an API demon. Something like ARexx on Amiga (or REXX on OS/2), that sits in the background and connects a scripting environment with message-interfaces of applications. However, my ideal solution would mean, that applications register all their functionality to this demon. Now any language could make use of this API. Especially scripting-anguages, since this is why it would be there.

    Then I would like to see all applications coming with freely configurabel toolbars, menus and mous-actions. Any of these would make use of the same functions available at the scripting-demon.

    Now, add an Office on top of that and you get really really powerful.

    Also I would like to see all the desktop being task based, as I would like to see the Office being task based, rather than applicaiton-based.
    The system would sense the context in which you are working and adopt. Maybe by learning your habits.

    The Office would be fully modular. Wide support for answering-machines, voice-modems, fax. (Hylafax could be addressed due to modularity and scripting).
    Then I would love to see code being reused:

    - completly stylesheet based. No own stylesheet, just extensions to CSS1, CSS2, CSS3)
    - spreadsheet in "classic" mode and "Lotus Imrpov" mode
    - full use of relational databases anywhere
    - full use of LDAP anywhere
    - no new Fax software. Use Hylafax and/or getty.
    - no monolithic applications. Instead function-modules, that can 'dock' into each other
    - status monitor lists recent emails along with contacts. Full integration of IM and email without forcing the user upon certain MUA.
    - export all to: Web (stylesheets!), PDF. PS, Latex, MS formats etc.
    - since all is modular people disliking WPCs could replace it with a special TeX editor
    - visual database designer
    - visual LDAP schema designer
    - and many more...

    I want all information accessible anywhere in such a complex application.
  • by BP9 (516511) on Saturday March 13, 2004 @09:29AM (#8551372)
    Having done development in a virtual environment for about the last 10 years IMO the most important thing is facilitating collaboration between engineers.
    The first company I did this with was almost entirely virtual and we used primarily telephone and email. This is good and worked OK where the projects were small enough they could be designed and implemented by 1 or 2 persons (basically isolated development). The largest project (multithreading a legacy kernel) was 3 people and I probably spent 3-4 hours a day on the phone in some phases of it.
    This pattern served well enough for the next 2 companies as well (one a startup and one a large corp), but in both cases a lot of travel was involved to keep everyone in their loops.
    Its not as much the software used as the mindset that everyone has to be involved in what used to be 'hallway' talk. While you have to have some additional process other than hallway talk for a project, it is very valuable and cements a group together (if all you ever experience of your co-workers is spec and design email exchange its hard to develop a feel of how they think/work, and IMO empathy with your co-workers greases the skids significantly).
    To finally get to the point: based on something I read on slashdot back in 99 or so when we did the next 'virtual' startup I pushed hard to use a broader range of tools. After 4 years of trying various mechanisms some have stuck and some have not, here's what is working really well for a smallish group of sr developers (5-10) and worked OK for a larger group (25ish) of mixed sr and jr people doing development of a 500kloc scale project involving kernel work (database and OS/networking):
    • IRC: this is our virtual office. The equivalent of walking to someone's cube and asking them a question happens here. We found that running structured meetings solely on IRC was not efficient, people who hate meetings would tend to do other work and not pay any attention at all.
      We set up UnrealIRC as the server (with a hack to disable the throttling so people can paste blocks of code or debug output w/o getting limited to 1 line per second) inside a firewall. Everyone uses an SSH tunnel to get to it. For clients everyone uses Xchat or mIRC.
      The most important trivial sounding thing about this setup is that everyone set up a trigger that watches for their name or traffic on a /query window and makes a sound. Some people set up filters to make sounds when their subsystem name is mentioned too. The key is you can say 'hey fred!' and at fred's end a noise happens. Most new employees don't see the point until a few weeks into using the system when they've missed out of good discussions regarding something they're responsible for.
    • a Wiki: I fought this as 'a toy' for a while, but finally came around and now I can't imagine how we worked w/o it. We tried using Frame+Visio+cvs for design documents, as well as Word + powerpoint (for drawings), also nroff+xfig. Nothing has come even close to the ease of doing collaborative design work on a Wiki.
      We use TWiki: it keeps everything in RCS under the covers and lets you easily attach binary files to any page (for drawings and such). There are lots of fancy plugins.
    • Plain old email: nothing fancy; used mostly as a store and forward message system to indicate when someone updates something in the Wiki that needs review or when changes are submitted to source control.
    • Phone conference: we use a commercial service called ReadyConference, no scheduling required everyone just calls into the bridge whenever we internally need a meeting. For small conferences 3-way calling from the phone company (even two 3ways put together) is much cheaper and good quality (just a pain to set up). Keep the number of meetings low and to the point (always have an agenda) and the phone is a fast way to reach consensus, its a poor place to float new proposals , IRC is much better for sending up a balloon.
    • Source control: I know this shouldn't even require menti
  • Real World Example (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Long-EZ (755920) on Saturday March 13, 2004 @12:18PM (#8552150)
    I run a small engineering company. I made some future oriented changes a year and a half ago.

    Linux OS. I probably should have switched a year earlier, but it's definitely ready for most business users now. Wars have been fought over which distro to use, but Xandros [xandros.com] can definitely help a small company be productive right now.

    OpenOffice for word processing, spreadsheets, and even HTML authoring (until Nvu [nvu.com] becomes available soon). OpenOffice has a good user interface, ease of use and interoperability. Like most open source products, it just keeps getting better.

    Mozilla for email and web browsing. I'll switch to Firefox soon. From what I've read, Outlook refugees (poor bastards) would like Ximian Evolution. [ximian.com]

    Fax via email. I chose MaxEmail [maxemail.com], but there are others. Way cheaper, better and less hassle than a fax machine. I strongly prefer email. MaxEmail allows technoweanies to send a fax and we can still handle it as email (choice of PDF or TIFF). They also provide voice mail systems, but we don't use them.

    Cell Phones. This sounds a bit cheesy at first glance, but the world is moving to wireless, almost forcing employees to have a cell phone anyway. Unless you're running a call center, cell phones meet all the phone needs of a typical small business. Voice mail is included. The concept of a receptionist, or worse an automated attendant system, is outdated. Putting customers on hold and transferring them three times is not a "feature" anyone should want in a phone system. VoIP and hacking together open source voice mail systems are neat technologies, but they're overkill for typical small business. If you need a small phone system, Siemens makes the GigaSet line that is well engineered with voicemail and wireless. When I last looked, they were about $350 + $80 per handset, maximum of 8 users. New models include routers and other cool stuff.

    QuickBooks. Definitely NOT open source, but hopefully someone will create an open source program that can read QB data, or at least a native Linux version of QB. For now, QB Pro 2000 runs under CrossOver, but it's ugly. QB can actually be used for a lot more than accounting. If you like, it'll manage a customer/contact database, track time for hourly employees, provide rudimentary project management, etc.

    In the perfect world, there would be one system that did everything. It'd be well integrated, easy to use and open source. That world will never exist, but we can come close. The goal should still be as few systems as possible, less complexity, lowest cost, and maximum ease of use. It should scale well when new employees are added. A small geek company like mine could easily go broke trying to create the perfect system. There are times when close enough will have to do, so you can get to the paying work and the never ending stream of government forms and accounting.

The first Rotarian was the first man to call John the Baptist "Jack." -- H.L. Mencken